Written By: Saad Qamar Iqbal
In a recent tour around Europe, I came across the liveliest of its cities in Spain and The Netherlands, the historical heart in Rome and Budapest, while discovering the best of Mother Nature in Switzerland and South France. Food, local culture, native people and language were among the best fascinations alongside the typical touristic attractions, but what stood out was the experience with people from all different cultural backgrounds. Interaction with people gave me an all-new insight into travelling. I made a personal and broad discrimination of the people I met- dividing them into two groups: (i) travelers or backpackers and (ii) tourists. There is no one-sentence definition to each, and only a thorough description of their conduct explains them in the purest sense.
On the outlook, the only point-of-similarity between tourists and travelers was the common destinations- and at times, not even this, for e.g., when traveler decided to go off mainstream places in the pursuit of more adventure. While the most striking differences provided good reasons to laugh upon, for instance, a traveler I met in Barcelona decided to not only learn a few phrases in the local Catalonian language, but also the local dialect and slangs, a tourist I met in Paris expected everyone in city to be fluent in English. Not just the hotel staff and taxi drivers in the lavish Champs-elysees street, but also a local, 80 years old vendor in a Parisian suburb of Evry.
The differences were not restricted to the linguistic scope of the two- but also stretched to their dinning and bedrooms. Backpackers loved to sleep in 8-bed dorm rooms, or camp outside. At a stark contrast, the tourists adhered to their routine of online booking of a 4-star hotel in a city center- or at least near a metro station which connects to all the tourist sights of the city. Coming to food, the former, although at times having to eat at KFC, never loved to brag about it. Tourists wouldn’t feel any hesitation for doing so, young ones also going on to check-in on their Facebook profile. Their love for local cuisine was often a confused one. A tourist I met in a guided tour in Brussels believed to have tasted the “real” Belgian cuisine after tasting only the internationally acclaimed Belgian fries, spaghetti bolognese and hamburgers. Another “traveler” in the group intervened right away to remind about the national “tarte au riz” and tartar sauce.
A look into their cameras and Facebook albums further helps in understanding the overall difference between the two groups of visitors. A random tourist’s photo collection includes several hundred selfies in front of Pisa or Eiffel Tower, a hundred portrait photos against Sacre-coer Church with a variety of poses and pictures of the famous Roman Colosseum taken from thousands of angles. A traveler would feel like John Huba after taking a blurry, below average picture of a random Berlin Street or a Parisian retired man with his typical hat. They have selfies too, but its hard to find one without their backpack on their back or one taken with selfie-stick.
Street crimes are a bother for many foreign visitors in several cities of Europe. Passport was always my favourite personal item when I traveled- for it helped me bypass borders legally. Tourists might prize their guidebook and city map more than their passport and cameras. They go to each and every destination suggested on any typical tourist guidebook with passion, and hence the special affection. Travelers lose their belongings to thugs and robbers on force in isolated towns and villages, while tourists would lose them to smart pocket-pickers doing their job in the matter of a glance while they change their metro station.
My analysis of the two groups doesn’t term tourists “bad” or travelers any “better”, Both of them are just a different lot, with different set of preferences. They might be travelling in different context or state of life- and a traveler today could be a tourist tomorrow. Financial aspect is an important one, and my interaction with travelers did suggest that only if they had more funds, they would have travelled in a rather “touristic” manner. But then there were rich travelers too-paying a premium amount for the camping place in a striking location just outside Toulouse in France. The bottom line perhaps is to strike a balance between two individualities: to make the most out of travel which can come with a blend of both “traveler” and “tourist” features.
The writer is a visiting student at EDHEC Business School, France.